Too-Specific Top 10 - Swamped
(Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth | Art by John Avon)
Buying Into Black
Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Last Stand is the only five-color spell with the means to directly kill a target player?)
Recently, I completely reworked my five-color Cycling deck, which was known to spin its wheels a bit. To alleviate this, I switched commanders yet again, from Niv-Mizzet Reborn to Golos, Tireless Pilgrim. Now, instead of being almost completely reliant on the likes of Psychosis Crawler, I had a powerful weapon that could search for any land and put it directly onto the battlefield.
With that in mind, what land could completely drive a five-color deck and provide a bunch of finishing power? Why, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth of course!
Turning every land into a Swamp is extremely potent, so all it takes is a quick search for some powerhouses to help this magical land close out a game quickly. Which got me thinking... what are the best cards that care about Swamps in EDH?
Top 10 Cards That Care About Swamps
All right, we'll get to the criteria for our Too-Specific Top 10 list in a second, but first I wanted to share the decklist I've been talking about. You know, for inquiring minds and all that. To be clear, it's not maxed out on power level at all, but it's rapidly becoming my favorite deck to pull out of the bag now that it doesn't durdle for decades.
Spin Cycle Swamp.0View on Archidekt
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To give a quick rundown, after you search for Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, you then try to win through various cards that care about Swamps in both a negative and positive way. From Karma to Filth to Roots of Life, it doesn't take long for you to start gaining advantage and draining others' life totals, all while you have half as many "Swamps" due to the massive amounts of bounce lands you're playing.
That said, it's doubtful that any of those particular three will make our list of the best cards that care about Swamps. Of the cards we've talked about so far, the one that would definitely make our list would be Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, along with the ever-popular and ludicrously expensive Cabal Coffers.
Since we here at Too-Specific Top 10 are wanting to lean away from predictable boredom whenever possible, let's just go ahead and overreact, eliminating lands from the equation entirely. Additionally, we're not really looking for cards that merely mention Swamps, either, so let's try and get a bit more specific and only include cards that care about the number of Swamps you or others control. I don't know about you, but I personally don't want the likes of Farseek at the top of our 'Swamps matter' list.
Criteria: Nonland cards that care about the number of Swamps either you or other players control, or that otherwise trigger when a Swamp is tapped or enters the battlefield. As is tradition, all results are ordered by how many decks they are included in on EDHREC.
Mana doublers are heavily sought after commodities when it comes to EDH, and Crypt Ghast is no exception. For just four mana, this Spirit will make sure your Swamps tap for double the mana, all while giving you a place for extra mana in the form of Extort. Not a bad package, all things considered. Unfortunately, people have become quite aware of just how good Crypt Ghast is, so don't be surprised if you have some difficulties keeping your favorite Swamp enabler on the battlefield!
Every line of text on Liliana of the Dark Realms references our favorite basic land type, so it comes as no surprise to find her quite high on this list. While technically only Liliana's -3 ability qualifies here, the true reason she's made the number two slot is that she easily slots into any mono-black deck imaginable, providing a means to search for a land every turn while pumping her loyalty counters, a means to either hit for the win or remove a problem creature with her -3, or an emblem that will make sure you have the most mana at the table no matter what. While she's easily removed if you don't have a means to protect her, this particular Liliana is worth the risk in any deck that can keep her alive.
Before the days of Damnation and Toxic Deluge, there was a go-to removal spell in black. While it still plays a part for those of us not willing to shell out the cash for the mostly superior options, it suffers both from not being able to selectively keep your creatures while killing your opponents' and from sometimes not being able to wipe out the creatures with tons of +1/+1 counters on them. That said, it can take out indestructible and otherwise difficult-to-kill creatures, and comes in at a very reasonable four mana, making it a great option if you're going heavy on board wipes in mono-black.
While we did our best to cross the mighty Cabal Coffers off of our list early, we didn't manage to completely succeed thanks to the Commander precon's Magus cycle. For those unfamiliar with what this old and expensive land does, it's much the same as the less pricey Magus of the Coffers, simply letting you pay two mana and tap it to add a black mana for every Swamp you control. Given that it's not difficult to have more than two to three Swamps, especially when casting a five-mana creature, and that Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth lets you do so while not having to actually stop yourself from playing utility lands, this has a rather rapid effect on the amount of mana available to you. That said, if you have the money for the real thing, this more fragile creature version really doesn't tend to be the best option available.
If you haven't noticed a trend yet when it comes to cards that care about Swamps, then you may not have actually played against a mono-black deck before. While more expensive than the aforementioned Crypt Ghast, Nirkana Revenant nonetheless still sees quite a bit of play at the battlecruiser tables as a backup of the same effect. While the attached pump effect isn't quite as excellent as being able to whittle away at your opponents' life totals while boosting your own, it can nonetheless prove valuable if you somehow manage to wipe the rest of a board. In black. With double the mana at your disposal.
Speaking of swinging for the win, Lashwrithe has a good shot at doing so under much the same circumstances as Nirkana Revenant, for less mana. The fact that it comes attached to a Germ token makes it perfect for playing right after a Mutilate or its ilk, or you can just attach it to a creature with one of the many instances of evasion available in black. Regardless of how you do it, swinging for damage equal to the number of lands you control does tend to make games go in your favor, evasion or no.
That's right, black has its own version of the infamous High Tide! Granted, it's at sorcery speed instead of being able to do it on someone else's turn to start off a Storm combo with a bit of a boost, but in all likelihood it's still going to do more for you in a mono-black build than a simple Dark Ritual will, for the same mana cost. All in all, I'm actually glad this managed to make the list, given that it currently only sees play in 2,163 decks. A lot of that is the fact that it's a symmetrical effect, and really only playable in mono-black, but I would argue that a much larger reason for this lack of play is simply that people are unaware of this dollar common from way way back in Urza's Destiny that has never seen a reprint despite not being on the Reserved List.
It took a ways down the list, but finally we have our first removal spell that cares about the number of Swamps you control. In much the same way as Liliana of the Dark Realms, Tendrils of Corruption will let you deal overwhelming amounts of damage to a creature of your choice and gain you the same amount of life, all at a much cheaper cost than the more old-fashioned Drain Life or Corrupt. While it can't target players or planeswalkers like the more expensive versions can, the easy lifegain combined with relative ability to remove most creatures fits the bill for a lot of decks specifically centered around life totals.
That said, I actually think that all things considered, in most circumstances I would rather play Dread Presence in the four mana slot if I'm looking to gain some life and remove some creatures. While that isn't a blanket statement given that you may only be able to trigger this particular Nightmare once per turn in a lot of decks, and at sorcery speed to boot, the repeatable nature of Dread Presence is not to be underestimated. Add to that the extreme flexibility of being able to hit any target or just draw a card instead, and I would imagine that this particular cares-about-Swamps option will continue to climb these ranks as decklists are updated.
In the world of power creep, Nightmare Lash has largely been outshined by its pupil in the form of Lashwrithe. That said, there is always the argument of "why not both?" keeping this particular option in decklists.
However, Nightmare Lash is a lot less flexible an option than its later version, and as such will often end up just outside of the 99. That is unless you can think of a specific corner case of a deck where it equipping for one less life than Lashwrithe would be super relevant.
In the immediate aftermath of our Top 10 there are a few options that both seem like they should be seeing more play, and a few that I would argue shouldn't even be seeing the limited inclusions that they are. Chief among them is the newer inclusion of the one-mana removal spell Defile, which would come in at number 11 if we continued the list, along with Corrupt in the number 12 slot.
These are interesting because they are almost exact opposites of each other when considering which decks want to play them: Defile wants to see play in faster, most likely more powerful versions of mono-black, while Corrupt has been a mainstay of black-loving durdlers everywhere since the inception of Elder Dragon Highlander.
The same thing is true of the next two contenders on the extended list, Nightmare and Staff of the Death Magus.
Okay, the Staff wasn't even in print during the early days of EDH, but versions of it that cared less about Swamps and more about black spells definitely saw play around much more casual tables (though even back then, they shouldn't have). The same is true for the overpriced Nightmare, which never quite seems to be able to swing in for the tens of damage that it promises. Newer players would do well to steer away from these options, although if they're anything like me when I was new, they'll probably hold on for dear life. Which you've gotta respect, honestly. I know I'm still trying to sneak a Scuttling Doom Engine into every deck I build, and it'll probably make the cut one of these days.
What Do You Think?
Mono-black will probably always lean into Swamps matter effects, and even decks with two colors that include black may dabble if the build is right.
What are your favorite mono-black cards not mentioned here? I personally love playing around the universal nature of Karma and Stern Judge, but I know there's got to be other folks out there with more devious schemes! Let us know what they are in the comments, and we'll see you at the